Saturday, May 29, 2010

Always new Marxists in the world...

One thing I love about studying film is that I encounter interesting people all the time, just when I thought that there were so few of them. Yesterday was the last school day for the summer, and a few of us sat down in the grass - sharing beer, wine and cigarettes and enjoying the rainy Swedish summer weather.

After a while I find myself talking to a girl that obviously has been in the same class with me for half a year without me noticing. (Perhaps an effect of me always thinking that women are whiny bitches I don't care to spend any time with.) Suddenly she asks me if I had heard about some guys called the Marx brothers. After a minor shock I regained consciousness enough to reveal my Groucho Marx tattoo on my upper arm, and got following reaction: "Oh my God! Is it...? No! Is it... It's Groucho!" And there I had a new friend. I just love when getting to know people takes less than three minutes.

Of course I had to send an email to her with the url to the top two Marx Brothers blogs: The Marx Brothers Council of Britain and The Marx Brothers (aka Minnie's Boys), and of course a link to Salvador Dalis Marx Brothers script "Giraffes on Horseback Salads". We Marxists have to stick together.

People will probably hate me for this, but I will share some pictures from the lovely beer picnic. Just look adore the film nerds and the cloudy Swedish summer. Hopefully I will have the energy to be more active on both my blog and yours now that I can take a break from school a few weeks. Cheers!

The Marx Brother girl and a good friend of mine,
who will also be our wedding photographer.

Happy happy fun time!

Beer and pizza - probably the only masculine features these two boys have. I like them, though.

Monday, May 24, 2010

More Hollywood kisses

Dearest readers!

Do you remember the clip I made with top ten greatest (but they weren't the greatest) Hollywood kisses? Now that summer is coming - oh yes, after a while it comes to Sweden too - and I won't have much to do, except from studying Russian, I thought I should try to pick up were I left off.

I recently got a comment on the video on YouTube, asking me if I had more videos like that. I don't - yet. It could be a good way for me to practice on my video editing program.

Therefore I ask you, dear classic film experts - do you have any suggestions for film kisses I have yet to highlight and honor?

I also plan on not relying only on a wannabe British voice over this time, but show my pretty little face for you. Suggestions for improvement, or any kind of ideas, are dearly welcome!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Jeanne Moreau

French actress Jeanne Moreau, who feminist film theorist Molly Haskell described as "the glorious fantasy, appealing to both sexes, to men as eternal mistress, to women as Nietzschean Superwoman."
I just have to buy Haskell's new book Frankly, My Dear: "Gone With the Wind" Revisited.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Guilty pleasure: Elvis Pelvis

I certainly understand why women in the 1950's and 1960's went crazy over Elvis Presley's sexy movements on stage. They may seem ridiculous today, but... not for me. Watching Elvis move like he had an electric shock, shaking his legs like they were made out of jelly, studying his constant face twitching (see the Paramount screentest in color below)... it's just a very guilty pleasure of mine. It serves as a kind of nostalgia for me: Elvis (his music, good looks, Jailhouse Rock) was my entry to the world of classic film and retro music. My classic film craze owes a lot to Elvis with the Pelvis. Most people seems to like his 1970's songs more, but the gospel/patriotic approach has never been of much interest for me. I've always been more of a rock'n'roll chick.

The clip with Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan show (well, one of the times he was there, at least) is a favorite of mine. He teases the audience - he knows they love him. But the best thing is how he presents the song he is about to perform. It is a sad song, it has a message. Beautiful lyrics. It's "Hound Dog".

Monday, May 10, 2010

Barbarella (1968)

Director: Roger Vadim
France/Italy 1968
98 min
Starring: Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea, David Hemmings and Marcel Marceau.

Dildano: [radioing instructions to the rebel army] And our password will be... Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. 
Barbarella: You mean the secret password is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch? 
Dildano: Exactly. 

The password is, by the way, the name of a real village and community in Wales. For its Wikipedia page and some help with the pronunciation, I will gladly provide you with a link.

As much as I adore this film, I almost have to love the tagline more. "Who can save the universe?" Well, it sure as hell isn't Barbarella! She knows how to dress and wear her hair, but she seems to have a hard time not getting distracted by attractive (and also not-very-attractive) men.

Barbarella's (Jane Fonda) initial goal is to find and stop the evil mastermind Durand Durand (Milo O'Shea, and yes - the group Duran Duran got their name from this character), who threatens to interrupt centuries of intergalactic peace with a weapon of mass destruction. (Cold War vibes, anyone?) And the rest of the film is an orgy of cool 1960's music, short skirts (if any), fabulous boots, sarcastic comments and... well, orgies. Although by 1968 filmmakers still had the decency to skip the porn, and instead only indicate all action worthy of Markis de Sade. (At least in the United States - Swedish films made at the same time is another topic indeed.)
The lovely thing with the "promiscuity" is that this sexually active Barbarella actually is saved in the end "by her innocence"! Oh, I should have lived in the 1960's.

I have the feeling that some people may believe that this film objectifies women. And yes, it does. But it objectifies men equally - me and a film classmate drooled immeasurable amounts over the blind angel Pygar (John Phillip Law), and somewhat shamefully over the resistance character suitably named Dildano (David Hemmings). And if pantomime genius Marcel Marceau accepted a part in this movie, one has to be able not to take it too seriously!

The film constantly underlines that it thinks itself ridiculous, most notably by sarcastic one-liners by Barbarella. A couple of examples:
Barbarella is captured in a plastic cage and attacked by a giant flock of birds. After having wined a bit about it, she calmly states that "this is a much too poetic way to die".
Walking in the castle of SoGo (a town named after the biblical Sodom and Gomorra), Barbarella and Pygar hear a scream. She first exclaims, as one would, "What's that screaming?", then follows it up with "A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming..."

Male objectification.
Above: Pygar. Below: Dildano.

What more can I say? I love this film. It's funny, it's over-the-top, it's campy. It is obviously, and rightfully, listed among the "Top 100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made" in The Official Razzie Movie Guide. I want that book. The only thing that seemed missing was the indicated, but never fulfilled, female pleasure activities between Barbarella and The Great Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg).

Now to an expose over some of the outfits Jane Fonda manages to switch between during the most weird moments in the film:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Persona (1966)

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Sweden 1966
85 min
Starring: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullman, Margaretha Krook and Gunnar Björnstrand.

Is it really important not to lie, to speak so that everything rings true? Can one live without lying and quibbling and making excuses? Isn't it better to be lazy and lax and deceitful? Perhaps you even improve by staying as you are.
- Alma

An actress, Elisabeth Vogler (Liv Ullman), has had a breakdown on stage and now suffer from muteness and a near-catatonic behavior. Sister Alma (Bibi Andersson) is assigned to take care of her. Elisabeth's doctor and Alma's supervisor (Margaretha Krook) recommends them to live in her beach house, which she thinks will help Elisabeth's health to improve. As the two women live together and become intimate (some would say in an erotic way, but I think that would be a misinterpretation) their identities start to merge.

Initially Alma feels great relief in being the only one to talk, experiencing comfort and sympathy from her silent listener, as she reveals the most intimate secrets about herself. Elisabeth's continuing silence does however make Alma uncomfortable, especially after having secretly read one of Elizabeth's letters to her doctor expressing a delight in studying Alma's behavior and increasing dependence on her, and Alma turns from being a compassionate and sweet nurse to an egotistical, irritable and violent woman.

A plot summary may sound simple (or complicated) enough, but the most interesting part of Persona is the way it repeatedly acknowledges itself for the piece of celluloid it actually is. Both the beginning and the end of the film consists of bizarre montages, brief pictures that the eye almost can't perceive: a silent film slapstick scene, an erect penis, a slaughtered lamb and a hand being pierced by a nail. There are also short sequences with a film projector, celluloid strips and carbon rods meeting each other, to further underline the fact that what we are watching is in fact a motion picture.

The film is also interrupted halfway through, when the movement of Alma suddenly freezes, and the celluloid burst into flames - about the time when the projectionist would change reels. Most famous of these self-reflexive moments is probably the one with the ca ten year old boy reaching for an out-of-focus woman on the wall, resembling the screen of a film theater, a face that switches between Alma and Elisabeth.

This motif is the reason behind Bergman's request that all publicity stills were to include a piece of the film strip on the edge. (See below.) Responsible for the breathtaking photography is the Bergman regular Sven Nykvist, whose style established with Persona is sometimes humorously summed up with the words "two faces and a tea cup". That's just brilliant.

Trying to summarize Persona in less than a proper blog post length is hard, and for an amateur like me close to impossible. For a fabulous analysis of the film I recommend an article from Sight and Sound in 1967, by Susan Sontag. You can find it here, on the fantastic Ingmar Bergman home page.

Sontag is very concerned with reviewers taking the easy way out, describing Persona either as "a film about the merging of identities" or "a film about lesbians and lesbianism", as well as people conveniently deciding that either everything in the film is supposed to be reality or entirely a fabrication of Alma's mind.

That was what I was referring to when I earlier mentioned something about Alma's and Elizabeth's intimate relationship: I had the strong feeling while watching Persona, that some parts (with increasing occurrence) were a result of Alma's distorted mind. Perhaps I should re-phrase: It is evident that Alma feels a close connection with Elisabeth after having revealed her inner self for her, something that in her unconscious mind (when asleep or drunk) turns into erotic fantasies, an embodiment of the closeness she feels to Elisabeth.

The paragraph above is entirely my own interpretation of some scenes in the film, and not Sontag's rantings. But for the interested I recommend the more professional Sontag analysis, even though everything I say is of course the unquestionable truth.

In short: My homeboy made it again, and even more so than before, with Persona. It deserves plenty of re-watches and philosophical discussion. I can't believe I haven't seen this film of his until... today.

1. Ingmar Bergman during the shooting of Persona.
2. Bergman with cinematographer Sven Nykvist.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Boney M. - Rasputin (1978)

It was so amusing when my cousin told me that her kids loved this song and liked to sing along with it. "You do know that Rasputin was a drunk rapist bastard, right?" Of course, she had no idea who Rasputin was, but was probably happy that her children didn't understand the English lyrics just yet. Of course, I was brought up believing that Men At Work sang "Do you come from a land down under, where women blow and make wonder", so I guess that my cousin doesn't have to worry too much about destroying her children's minds.

Anyhow. In 1978 the adorable sadomasochistic disco band Boney M. had a hit with this song about Rasputin, and I must say that they have managed quite well in summarizing this special human being in one little song. And what a catchy melody it is!

Although the song was popular in the Soviet Union and made Rasputin famous again, the song was deleted from their records sold there, and they weren't allowed to perform the song on their Moscow tour in 1978.

The real history behind:

Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916), aka "The Mad Monk", was at first a Russian farmer like everyone else: he drank vodka, beat his wife and plowed the fields. After a few religious revelations however he started a pilgrim voyage, and soon he was known as a holy man. He was introduced to the Tsarina of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna (granddaughter of Queen Victoria) and became her personal adviser and healer. To return the favor of being allowed to roam the palace, he often got drunk in random pubs and bragged about his close relationship to the Tsarina and disgracing her mousy husband, Tsar Nicholas II.

There lived a certain man in Russia long ago
He was big and strong, in his eyes a flaming glow
Most people looked at him with terror and with fear
But to Moscow chicks he was such a lovely dear
He could preach the bible like a preacher
Full of ecstacy and fire
But he also was the kind of teacher
Women would desire

This bad behavior, his influence in politics via the Tsarina and the fact that the Tsarina refused to listen to any bad talk about Rasputin, insulted the Russian people and made them reluctant toward the Tsar. Of course, the situation in Russia was already turbulent with the Revolution about to break out, so a dirty monk in the palace didn't help the Tsar's bad reputation as a lousy ruler.

But when his drinking and lusting and his hunger
for power became known to more and more people,
the demands to do something about this outrageous
man became louder and louder.

Rasputin was assassinated in 1916 (a popular story on the verge of being a myth), and the Tsar, Tsarina and their four children were assassinated in 1918 by a group of hotshot Bolsheviks who wanted to abolish the Tsar in favor of Lenin. They succeeded.

You all heard the story about Anastasia, right? Disney film and all. She was one of the children of the Tsar family, and no, she did not survive - but she was however the last one struggling to stay alive after being bombarded with bullets from the murderers. The bodies of the Tsar family were later that day burnt in the forest by an abandoned mine in order to destroy evidence of the assassination. The family had however sown in valuable jewels into their clothes, fearing to be robbed by their capturers, and these did not burn up. Farmers living nearby found the jewels (among skeleton parts and fancy shoes), and realized that something terrible had happened their. In short: covering up the assassination of the Tsar family did not succeed. (Hadn't they watched enough CSI to know how to get rid of evidence? Jeez.)

Tsar Nicholas II and his family, all assassinated July 17, 1918.

Oh yes, and the assassination of Rasputin. He was lured to attend a party and was poisoned, shot, beaten and then drowned. They also cut off his naughty bits, which were unusually huge. For the morbid readers (I don't blame you), I give you a link to a picture of them in a jar.

Lover of the Russian queen
They put some poison into his wine
Russia's greatest love machine
He drank it all and he said "I feel fine"

Lover of the Russian queen
They didn't quit, they wanted his head
Russia's greatest love machine
And so they shot him till he was dead

I like the phrasing "they shot him till he was dead", even though it wasn't entirely true. When his body was hauled in for an autopsy, water was found in his lungs pointing toward a death by drowning. His body was supposedly frozen in a position that indicated that he had tried to claw his way through the ice, so obviously the assassins hadn't exaggerated when trying to kill him with poison, gun shots, beating and drowning.

But why was the Mad Monk assassinated? I don't understand, he seemed like such a nice man. I mean, he strongly believed in cleaning oneself from sin: and to do so, one had to sin to get rid of the temptation. He supposedly engaged in wild erotic adventures and drank Vodka like it was water. There are plenty of rumors about Rasputin, for instance that he once raped a nun, but the evidence is of course quite lacking.

Russia's greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on...

A love machine he was, even though it probably often was his initiative. He did however succeed in relieving the pain for Tsarina Alexandra's son, Alexei, who had haemophilia. He was never the Tsarina's lover, opposed to popular rumors.

He ruled the Russian land and never mind the czar
But the kasachok he danced really wunderbar
In all affairs of state he was the man to please
But he was real great when he had a girl to squeeze
For the queen he was no wheeler dealer
Though she'd heard the things he'd done
She believed he was a holy healer
Who would heal her son

"Mmm, glorious beard... Glasnost, perestrojka and wha'evva."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spirited Away (2001)

Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Japan 2001
125 min
Studio Ghibli

Spirited Away was the first anime I ever saw, and it turned my prejudices against the anime craze upside down. Of course, there are loads of really meaningless and bad anime too, as in any film genre: but I realized that this film is an example of creativity and imagination I had never seen the like of. In the same way Tim Burton creates his own universe, so does Studio Ghibli.

The protagonist is a young girl called Chihiro, who at the beginning of the film is moving to another town. They stop at the way when they are fascinated by a strange building, and soon they end up in a pleasant little town. "Pleasant" might be the wrong word, since everything seems strange. There are no people in sight, but like any film seen through the eyes of the child, the parents do not thing anything is odd and continue to stroll along. Unfortunately the town proves to be a link to the spirit world, and when Chihiro's parents start gorging on the local town food, they turn into pigs. Chihiro is captured in the spirit world, where she is stripped off her name by the witch Yubaba. Chihiro, or "Sen" as she is now called, has to try to survive in the strange spirit world and find a way to rescue her parents, who risk getting eaten if they turn too fat.

The original title "Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi" literally means "Sen and Chihiro's spiriting away", and refers to an occurrence in Japanese folklore where a person mysteriously disappear when an angered god has taken the person away (that's the word "kamikakushi" in the title). I get a strong feeling that there are a lot more references to tales and folklore in Spirited Away and its likes - thank God there is Internet.